By Karen Rosen | Dec. 15, 2019, 11:32 p.m. (ET)
Virginia Fuchs celebrates after defeating Christina Cruz at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Boxing on Dec. 15, 2019 in Lake Charles, La.

 

LAKE CHARLES, La. – Virginia Fuchs was training Saturday night and missed seeing Joe Burrow, a fellow LSU Tiger, accept the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s best college football player.

“I forgot it was on and my mom called right away and said he won,” said Fuchs, who ran cross-country for LSU before becoming a boxer. “I knew he was going to win. There’s no one better than him right now out there.”

And there’s no one better than Fuchs in the 51 kg. weight class in the United States.

“Pumped” by Burrow’s win, the 31-year-old flyweight continued her undefeated run at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Boxing by defeating Christina Cruz by unanimous decision Sunday in the final. Fuchs joins two-time Olympic champion Claressa Shields as the only female U.S. boxers to win back-to-back Olympic trials.

Wearing her signature purple and gold LSU bandana and socks, Fuchs made it two milestones in a row for her school as her fans chanted, “L-S-U! L-S-U!”

“We’re killing it out there!” said Fuchs.

Fuchs was one of 10 boxers who earned belts Sunday in the ballroom at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino and can call themselves Olympic trials champions.

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Three weight classes will be decided Monday in box-offs because of the double-elimination format of the trials.

Yet nearly everyone at this stage is a winner. All but one athlete reaching Sunday’s finals will advance to training camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the Strandja Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria, Jan. 17-26. Jeremiah Milton, runner-up in the 91+ kg. division, will face Richard Torrez Jr., who missed the trials because of a medical exemption, on Jan. 4, 2020, for the right to be the second athlete in that weight class.

However, it’s a long and winding road to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Once the 13 athletes – eight men and five women – are selected to represent Team USA based on a complicated points system, they’ll compete in the American Olympic Qualification Event March 26-April 3 in Buenos Aires.

Athletes who do not qualify in Argentina have a final chance in the World Olympic Qualification Event May 13-24 in Paris.

This was the third Olympic trials for both the top-seeded Fuchs and Cruz, who was the fourth seed. Fuchs won the trials in 2016, but came up short in international qualifying.

Deciding to forgo the pro ranks for one more Olympic cycle, Fuchs said it was special having the trials in the state where she took up the sport.

After winning a bronze medal at the 2018 world championships, Fuchs struggled earlier this year with her obsessive compulsive disorder, a condition she has discussed openly.

“I decided to put myself into inpatient treatment for the whole month of February because it got really, really bad again,” she said. “Didn’t expect that.

“I got trapped in my rituals and I felt like I couldn’t get out and I needed help.”

Fuchs, who is filming a documentary about how OCD affects her, entered a facility in Houston, near her home in Kemah, Texas.

However, she left earlier than she would have liked because she had to get ready for the Pan American Games qualifier. Fuchs went on to win the silver medal at the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru.

“With boxing, I don’t really have any rituals, so that’s why I like boxing, because it takes me out of my OCD mind and my OCD world,” said Fuchs. “It’s like my peace, which is funny, because it’s boxing.”

She and Cruz, 37, of Hell’s Kitchen, New York, who won bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 trials, both broke into grins when the bell rang. They then slapped gloves and hugged.

“She’s one of my really, really good friends,” said Fuchs, who also defeated Cruz on Wednesday. “We’ve been training together at the Olympic Training Center for years. We spar all the time. So, you hate to fight your friend, but we have mutual respect, so we said that was a great fight, which it was, and we just have fun in there.”

Here's a look at how the other 12 finals went Sunday:

 

Men’s 52 kg.: Abraham Perez of Albuquerque, New Mexico, defeated Anthony Herrera of Los Angeles by unanimous decision in a rematch of their Friday bout, which Perez won in a 3-2 split decision.

Perez was the No. 2 seed, while Herrera was seeded fourth.

“The first fight for sure was the toughest, but the second one I made it clear that this was meant for me,” Perez said. “I’m happy. There’s a lot of sacrifices that I made, I’m glad the sacrifices weren’t for nothing. So I’m very excited.”

He said those sacrifices included no birthday cake on his birthday because he was always dieting.

“I had a meal replacement bar with a candle,” Perez said.

Instead of eating Thanksgiving dinner, he was sparring.

“I’m always working out trying to perfect my craft,” Perez said. “There’s still more improvement that I need, but I’m glad that I made it this far.”

 

Women’s 57 kg.: No. 7 seed Lupe Gutierrez of Sacramento, California, upset No. 4 seed Andrea Medina, of Chula Vista, California, in a 3-2 split decision to force the first box-off Monday. Medina had taken a 3-2 split decision in their first bout on Friday.

Gutierrez said she wasn’t fazed by being the seventh seed.

“It’s like being the underdog,” she said. “You’ve got to work your way up to the top. That’s what I’m doing, trying to prove to everybody that I’m the best.”

Gutierrez said the only other time she beat Medina was in 2016 and she did it this time by “picking my shots more.”

She added that the atmosphere in the ballroom motivated her. “This pushes you, being here and seeing how big it is. I like this feeling and I want to keep on going. I know she’s going to try to come forward on me. She feels under pressure now that I beat her and tomorrow’s the last shot, so I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing.”

 

Men’s 57 kg.: Bruce Carrington of Brooklyn, New York, is the only No. 8 seed to win the trials, defeating No. 2 seed David Navarro of Los Angeles by unanimous decision.

“I had to just basically kill myself in order to make this weight,” said Carrington, whose 60 kg. weight class was eliminated in the reduction of the men’s Olympic divisions. “And I did it, and I just felt like nobody wanted it more than me.”

Two years ago he switched to a plant-based diet, which he said made it much easier to make weight and sustain his energy.

Carrington said he’s been ready for this moment since he was 7 years old.

“I came straight from the gutter, Brownsville, Brooklyn, Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, all these other guys, all these other champions come from the same background that I come from,” Carrington said. “I just felt like I needed it and all our hard work exploded and it showed after the decision when I won.”

Carrington beat top-seeded Duke Ragan, a 2017 world silver medalist, in his opening bout.

“Duke is a great competitor, but at that moment, I just was on Cloud 10, forget Cloud Nine,” Carrington said. “I already made up my mind not to lose in the tournament before that, but that just boosted my confidence even more.”

 

Women’s 60 kg.: Top-seeded Rashida Ellis of Lynn, Massachusetts, scored a unanimous decision over No. 2 seed Amelia Moore of Alexandria, Virginia.

“Throughout the four years, I just had to push myself harder, throw a lot more punches, because I used to just stay on the ropes and take punches and the judges don’t like that,” Ellis said. “I’ve just got to fight for the judges now. They like to see your hands, flying, flying.”

Ellis, 24, started boxing when she was 10. At age 16, she began fighting older women in the open class. “Then I heard about the Olympics and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I want to do that,” she said.

In October of this year, she won bronze at the world championships.

 

Men’s 63 kg.: Keyshawn Davis, the reigning world silver medalist and top seed, won in a walkover when No. 3 seed Ernesto Mercado, of Pomona, California, told officials he was too ill to fight.

Davis, of Norfolk, Virginia, said he found out he would not enter the ring after he finished warming up.

“I had a nice little sweat going, got my music pumping, I’m dancing and having fun and the next thing I know, my coach walked up, ‘Key, you’re not fighting,’” he said.

Davis had a feeling something was wrong when he didn’t see Mercado at the weigh-in, but thought maybe he had just missed him.

“The whole week was great, straight unanimous decisions,” Davis said. “I feel like the top prospect of the tournament.”

 

Women’s 69 kg.: Oshae Jones of Toledo, Ohio, the top seed, celebrated her second defeat of No. 8 Briana Che of Madison, Wisconsin, in the tournament with a dance in the ring.

Jones won by unanimous decision, just as she did in all of her previous bouts.

“This is the goal, baby, this is the goal,” she said.

Sugar Ray Seales, a 1972 Olympic champion for Team USA, was waiting for her away from the ring, showing her the gold medal he wore around his neck and giving her some advice. “She’s going to get hers,” he said.

“It was so motivating,” Jones said of seeing the gold medal. “I wanted to take a break when I get back, just a couple of days off, but now I just want to go harder and harder. I want to get what he got and maybe even more.”

Jones said Che, whom she also defeated on the opening day, “brought out the best in me. I just did me. When I have tough, competitive people, I just do me.”

 

Men’s 69 kg.: Delante “Tiger” Johnson, the No. 2 seed from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, defeated his friend, top-seeded Freudis Rojas Jr., of Garland, Texas, in a 4-1 split decision. Johnson, who won a bronze medal at the Pan American Games, said his confidence is high after beating Rojas, who was born on the same day he was.

“I don’t think any achievement tops this,” said Johnson. “This is the biggest thing, ever. Since I was 7 years old, I’ve been wanting to fight for the Olympics.”

Johnson said he had to use his speed and footwork and put pressure on Rojas, who is taller and has longer arms.

“I had to really stay focused and really try to put the pressure on him and get on the ropes as best as I could and I got the job done,” he said. “He’s a good fighter. I had to bring my ‘A game’ to come out victorious.”

 

Women’s 75 kg.: Top-seeded Naomi Graham of Colorado Springs, Colorado, won by unanimous decision over Morelle McCane, the No. 2 seed from Cleveland, Ohio, who missed their earlier bout Friday because of a scheduling mix-up. Graham, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army and worlds bronze medalist, said she was at a loss for words.

“It just feels amazing to be at this point,” Graham said. “I knew I could do it. I believed in myself, but to actually accomplish it was a whole other feeling.

“It just keeps showing me more and more what I’m capable of. I keep surprising myself and I think that’s what’s more important.”

She said she was surprised that after “kicking it in third gear, to be able to maintain that the entire fight and continue to hold my skill level and not get tired, that’s just amazing to me as I continue to push myself and my body to the Olympics.”

 

Men’s 75 kg.: Joseph Hicks, the No. 3 seed, forced a rematch with Javier Martinez, the second seed, with a 3-2 split decision. Martinez, of Milwaukee, was the boxer who originally sent Hicks, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, into the challenger’s bracket on Wednesday.

“I gotta finish it off tomorrow,” said Hicks. “We’re 1-1. He beat me last time with his pressure. He just kept coming forward. Tonight, I said, ‘I’m not going to let him push me back.’ Most of the fight I did that. Sometimes, I was moving, but most of the fight I didn’t let him push me.”

However, he said the win was “too close for comfort. I don’t like split decisions because they can go any way.”

Hicks, who works in customer service for the Michigan Lottery, has now had six bouts while Martinez has had four.

“The more I fight, the better I feel,” he said.

 

Men’s 81 kg.: Rahim Gonzales of Las Vegas, the No. 1 seed, won a 4-1 split decision over No. 2 seed Atif Oberlton of Philadelphia. In their bout on Friday, Gonzales won by unanimous decision.

“I’m tired. I’m really tired,” Gonzales said after his second Olympic trials. “But I pushed through. I put the heart, the blood, sweat and tears in, so I’m just excited, very honored.”

Gonzales lost in the semifinals at the 2016 trials. “This right here is a memory I’ll never forget,” he said. “We did it, baby.”

 

Men’s 91 kg.: No. 7 seed Jamar Talley of Camden, New Jersey, went down at least twice, but still earned a unanimous decision over No. 8 seed Darius Fulghum of Rosharon, Texas.

Fulghum won their earlier matchup on Friday by a 3-2 split decision, so they will meet again in a box-off Monday.

“What made the difference was I had to bring the dog out of me,” Talley said. “In the past couple of fights I was trying to show technical skill, but at the end of the day, you can’t rely on that. In that fight with Darius the first time, it came to a split decision. Today, unanimous, because I dug deep and I wasn’t relying on skill. I was just relying on sheer heart and willpower. That’s what got the W today.”

He said Fulghum pushed him down. “I let him, and I get up,” Talley said. “We’re just here to box. We ain’t here to wrestle.”

 

Men’s 91+ kg.: Antonio Mireles of Des Moines, Iowa, earned his second straight unanimous decision over Jeremiah Milton of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

At 6-foot-8, Mireles, the No. 3 seed, towered over the No. 4 seed Milton, but he found this bout was much tougher than the first.

“He was a completely different fighter,” Mireles said. “That first round caught me off guard. He was much more poised, more collected. I had to think more. But I knew I had a better gas tank, so I just tried to push the pace and see if I could out-wind him.”

Mireles marveled at how quickly he has risen in the ranks. “It’s insane,” he said. “This time last year I wasn’t even ranked. No one knew who I was. Now I’m one of the top heavyweights in the country.”